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Philadelphia Eagles

Return Game Season 2 | Episode 9 | Birds, 'Boys, and Bad Blood

Birds, 'Boys, and Bad Blood
May 23, 2021

Return Game: Birds, 'Boys, and Bad Blood, presented by NovaCare Rehabilitation, is the sweeping story of the Eagles and Cowboys rivalry. By 2013, the bad blood between the Birds and the 'Boys had been there for decades with no signs of waning. The Eagles had a new coach and were down in Dallas. It was the de facto NFC East Championship Game and the pressure was on!

Of course, every Eagles fan knows that 2017 was the year the Birds went all the way - finally! But they had to overtake Dallas along on that journey and this game did not disappoint.

In 2019, the fate of the NFC East would again be influenced in a late-season matchup between the Eagles and Cowboys. Who would come on top in this one?


ROB ELLIS: Hello and welcome to modern times! We've landed in the 2010s. It's a decade stuffed full of rivalry memories. I remember some of them like they were yesterday, while others from years ago are so fleeting.

DERRICK GUNN: I know! When we started this, we were so much younger! And so was the rivalry.

ROB ELLIS: We've traveled from the 1960s, where a fledgling Dallas Cowboys franchise left a big mark on the Eagles.

GARY PETTIGREW: The first thing you saw was Timmy getting up off the ground with blood streaming out of his mouth and his helmet off.

ROB ELLIS: Hitting running back Timmy Brown and jump-starting the fierce competition between the Birds and the 'Boys! Then it was on to the early '70s for disco music, too many losses to keep track of, and Cowboy dominance.

The hit on Timmy Brown that ignited the rivalry.

CHARLIE WATERS: Everybody hated us. Everybody wanted to beat us.

DERRICK GUNN: By the early '80s, Eagles fans could finally brag about being an Eagles fan. And boy did they!

JERRY SISEMORE: You couldn't hear. It was just like a roar. It was beautiful.

ROB ELLIS: That pride lingered for the rest of that decade for two big reasons ...

DERRICK GUNN: Snowballs and hard-hitting football aka Buddy Ball.

KRISTI SCALES: It was a way to get back at the Cowboys.

DERRICK GUNN: By the 1990s, the Cowboys were unstoppable with (Troy) Aikman, (Michael) Irvin, and (Emmitt) Smith. But our team still had moments of Eagles glory.

MERRILL REESE: Troy Aikman was the golden boy and here's this tough Eagles defense. They really got after him.

ROB ELLIS: We cruised through the 2000s. The aughts served up pickle juice, a super-close Super Bowl, and a whole lot of lopsided wins! Here we are, tackling a new decade in this episode of Return Game: Birds, 'Boys, and Bad Blood, presented by NovaCare Rehabilitation. I'm your host Rob Ellis.

DERRICK GUNN: And I'm Derrick Gunn. Let's head straight into 2013!


ROB ELLIS: Sure thing, D-Gunn! President Obama started his second term. Prince George was born. Earworms (songs that get stuck in your head) – Happy and Let it Go – were everywhere. I think just mentioning those titles means they are going to be with me all day! And probably all of our listeners, too, so you're welcome.

DERRICK GUNN: I would break into song now, but we don't have the rights and I don't have the voice! Edward Snowden became a household name and this year marked 50 years since JFK was shot in Dallas, an event we touched upon in our 1960s episode.

ROB ELLIS: In 2013, the Eagles' draft class included Lane Johnson and Zach Ertz.

DERRICK GUNN: And among the Cowboys' draft picks were Travis Frederick and Terrance Williams. Jason Garrett was in his third full season as head coach.

ROB ELLIS: And the Eagles had a new head coach too. His name was Chip Kelly.

DAVE SPADARO: Almost cherub-like at times. A lot of energy. Spoke really fast.

ROB ELLIS: Eagles Insider Dave Spadaro's description is spot on. Kelly made a career coaching college football. He had stints at Johns Hopkins and New Hampshire before landing in Oregon. It was there he developed a reputation as a coach who thought outside of the box and wasn't afraid to try new things.

DAVE SPADARO: He actually had the attention of the NFL that first year because he came from the University of Oregon with this offense that came and played at breakneck speed. And for a year and a half, Chip had the number of NFL defenses. They really couldn't figure out his no-huddle, up-tempo, spread-the-field-and-go kind of offense, and it worked for the Eagles as they won the NFC East.

ROB ELLIS: But we're getting ahead of ourselves a bit. Let's rewind for a moment.

CONNOR BARWIN: I am Connor Barwin. I played outside linebacker and defensive end for four years with the Philadelphia Eagles.

ROB ELLIS: Barwin arrived in 2013 after playing in Texas. Not with that Texas team, the other one – in Houston. He was stoked about being an Eagle and working with Coach Kelly.

CONNOR BARWIN: The Eagles were a storied franchise. They were very good. They went to a number of different NFC Championship Games with Donovan McNabb, Brian Dawkins, a lot of great players. The Super Bowl eluded them. And so then I came in 2013 when they hired Chip Kelly, kind of was a fresh start. He was really exciting.

ROB ELLIS: From the jump, Coach Kelly changed the way the team practiced.

CONNOR BARWIN: He did a bunch of stuff to kind of simplify what they do offensively, but was very effective early on. We practiced a ton. We practice fast, get off the field. There was this real kind of urgency. I think the biggest thing was just the way he went about practicing. We practiced different under Chip Kelly.

ROB ELLIS: A little inside knowledge: Playing alongside Barwin was Brent Celek. Celek and Barwin knew each other from their days at the University of Cincinnati. Oh, and Jason Kelce had been Barwin's roommate. So you had Kelce, Celek, and now Barwin on the team, and they joined yet another Bearcat – Trent Cole! Cole had been an Eagles defensive lineman since 2005.

DERRICK GUNN: That really is a small world – four Bearcats on one team!

ROB ELLIS: So in comes Chip Kelly from a university system where teams are run so differently. Could that style of football translate to the NFL? Here's Celek and Spadaro.

BRENT CELEK: I was excited. You know, I thought anytime we're doing something new, something you believe in. I thought we were gonna be a good football team.

DAVE SPADARO: They played football fast, fast, and faster, and then fastest was their fourth gear. And we all wondered how that would translate to the NFL, and how he would be able to communicate his message to a locker room filled with grown men who in the NFL, it's very tradition-based, and Chip? His idea was to come in and smash all the norms.


ROB ELLIS: Heading into the Week 17 game, the final game of the season, any inconsistencies the Eagles had were not on display. In fact, the Birds had played pretty well under Coach Kelly that season. Their record was 9-6, and one of those losses was to the Cowboys.

DAVE SPADARO: Earlier that season, the Cowboys did a number on the Eagles, 17-3. I mean, the offense got completely shut down.

DERRICK GUNN: The Cowboys were 8-7. And both teams were amped up for their second meeting and this time, they'd be on Dallas' turf.

ROB ELLIS: The Cowboys had been in their new stadium for the last few years. It's called AT&T Stadium now and it's nicknamed "Jerry World" after Owner Jerry Jones. It was huge. It had a retractable roof, seated 80,000 fans, but if needed, could accommodate 105,000.

CONNOR BARWIN: I don't really like playing in Dallas. I don't like playing on turf, which (Dallas) is a turf stadium. It's a long flight. I don't like long flights as a player, and the big TV they have? You don't like it as a player because when you're on the sideline, you like to look at the TV and see replays or different stuff during the game. And if you're out in the field, you actually have to kind of tilt your head way back and look up.

ROB ELLIS: Over Zoom, Barwin tilts his head back to illustrate the neck placement required at Jerry World. Ouch!

CONNOR BARWIN: Which over the course of a three-, four-hour game, you get tired of doing it where other stadiums it's in the end zones. It's very easy to see. But with all that being said, just the entertainment aspect of it, it is a big exciting stadium that people get excited to play at.

DERRICK GUNN: And with this being the make-or-break game, the feelings that come along with it are intense.

BRENT CELEK: Whether you're in Dallas or in Philly, it's just a lot of energy. And I think the teams feel that, like, the guys on the field know that.

DAVE SPADARO: The atmosphere in the stadium was great that night. Again, prime-time game, tons of Eagles fans are always in attendance in Dallas. It was a really terrific venue and moment in this Eagles-Cowboys rivalry. I mean, once again, the winner stays alive. And the loser goes home, tail between its legs, and that's kind of what you want against your biggest rival with the season on the line.

ROB ELLIS: Kickoff was at 8:30 PM on December 29, 2013. There were over 90,000 fans in the stands. The roof was closed! The Eagles score first, a field goal! Second quarter, Eagles running back LeSean McCoy catches a touchdown pass from Nick Foles. The Birds took a 10-0 lead.

DERRICK GUNN: Tony Romo, the Cowboys' starting quarterback, was out. He had a discectomy two days before the game.

CONNOR BARWIN: Kyle Orton was playing, so that probably gave us a little bit more confidence. No offense to Kyle Orton.

DERRICK GUNN: The Cowboys get on the board. Kyle Orton throws to Gavin Escobar.

ROB ELLIS: The Eagles struck again later in the first half on a Brent Celek touchdown reception.

BRENT CELEK: I was off the ball on the right-hand side of the formation. I ran a flat route and no one covered me. I caught it and ran right in the corner of the end zone. Got hit right when I got in the end zone.

Dec 29, 2013; Arlington, TX, USA; Philadelphia Eagles tight end Brent Celek (87) is pushed out of bounds by Dallas Cowboys free safety Barry Church (42) after making a catch during the game at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John Geliebter-Philadelphia Eagles

ROB ELLIS: The score, 17-7, Eagles.

DERRICK GUNN: A kicker named Dan Bailey would close out the half with a field goal for the 'Boys. The score, 17-10, Birds!

ROB ELLIS: It's halftime. Back to the visiting team's locker room. It is Cowboys silver. Everything is very, very silver. There are silver lockers, silver walls, silver floors. After a short pep talk from Coach Kelly and a check-in with their position coaches, Celek and Barwin run back onto the field. But this is Texas and Jerry World, so it's a glass tunnel from the locker room to the field.

CONNOR BARWIN: Jerry was the first one to do this. But when you walk out to the stadium, you're like in a zoo. There's glass walls and all the Cowboys fans are drinking at a bar, and sometimes they're banging on the wall. We walked through this tunnel to the stadium, which maybe was meant to psych you out, but I think it pumps you up, so it might be working in reverse.

DERRICK GUNN: The guys go from the zoo to the open field for the start of the second half. Dan Bailey nails two field goals bringing the score at the end of the third quarter to 17-16, Eagles.

ROB ELLIS: Starting the final quarter with a one-point lead could lead to panic and sloppy football. But Barwin seems to remember that he kept his cool.

CONNOR BARWIN: Probably at that point, you're so into the game. And honestly, you kind of revel in those really competitive, really close games. You just get in kind of a zone.

DERRICK GUNN: At this point, it was a real toss-up. Anybody could win. A play, any play, was needed to break this game open.

CONNOR BARWIN: Dallas was driving, I think they were on the plus side (Eagles territory) of the field and it was fourth-and-2. And they ran a bootleg, which is when they faked the run, and the quarterback kind of ran outside to pass it. Now, the interesting part about this play is when Kyle Orton turned around and ran and tried to pass it, I jumped up and batted the ball down, turnover on downs. So we got the ball.


ROB ELLIS: But in reality, Barwin may just have been in the right place at the wrong time.

CONNOR BARWIN: But the inside scoop on that play is, I was actually not supposed to rush the quarterback. I had a mental error. I was so kind of excited. And when the ball was snapped, I wanted to make a play so bad that I just made a decision and took off. And in reality, if I wouldn't have jumped up and batted that ball, he was throwing to my guy who was wide open, who would have been a first down. In many ways, it was a great play, and I made the play. On defense, if you're just playing really fast and playing hard, you can cover up a lot of mistakes. I remember I looked exactly at my coaches in the eye on the sideline because I knew and they knew, even some of my teammates might not have known because they don't know when an outside linebacker is supposed to be dropping in coverage, and everybody was so excited. But that actually almost was really bad. In a split second, it went from, I just messed this up to let me jump up and try to make a play. But it's funny how that works out sometimes.

DERRICK GUNN: Here's how the Cowboys wanted the play to unfold. Kyle Orton throws a pass. His target is DeMarco Murray. Murray catches the football and scores. Cowboys take the lead.

ROB ELLIS: No such luck. That pass was incomplete and the reaction?

CONNOR BARWIN: I'm sure it was quiet and they weren't happy. I kind of had a more subtle reaction. Like, I wasn't going crazy because I was kind of in my head, thinking like, "Good play, but you got a little lucky there." You know what I mean?

ROB ELLIS: Time is ticking down in the fourth quarter. Just over six minutes on the clock, and the Eagles score! Bryce Brown runs for 6 yards. The score sits at 24-16 Eagles. The NFC East title is almost in their grasp.

DERRICK GUNN: Two minutes later, from the Philadelphia 32, Orton passes to Dez Bryant for a Dallas touchdown. The two-point attempt fails.

ROB ELLIS: Eagles fans could breathe for a moment ...

CONNOR BARWIN: We got off the field on fourth down to give the offense the football back and we thought at that point, the game was over.

DERRICK GUNN: But there were still over three minutes left. And those Cowboys had a knack for surprising the Birds. They got the ball back.

CONNOR BARWIN: We were rushing Kyle Orton and he was in a desperate situation. He threw up a pass ...

DERRICK GUNN: Orton's target? Miles Austin. But not so fast.

CONNOR BARWIN: Brandon Boykin got the interception and then kind of fell to the ground. Then the game was truly over. Our offense just kneeled out the clock after that. And I remember that play, being on the field, excited to kind of make a play on Kyle Orton. And then turning around and watching Brandon make the play. And then all of us like running over and tackling him because, you know, then we knew the game was absolutely sealed. And we just beat Dallas to go to the playoffs and win the NFC East.

DALLAS, TX - DECEMBER 29: Brandon Boykin #22 and LeSean McCoy #25 of the Philadelphia Eagles during a game against the Dallas Cowboys on December 29, 2013 at AT&T Stadium in Dallas, Texas. The Eagles won 24-22. (Photo by Hunter Martin/Philadelphia Eagles/Getty Images) *** Local Caption ***

DERRICK GUNN: Kristi Scales says that for Dallas, it was tough to watch their playoff hopes slip away like that last intercepted pass to Miles Austin.

KRISTI SCALES: What I remember going into that game is just the charge atmosphere inside AT&T Stadium. And it's a place that can get loud, but Cowboy fans are pretty entitled. The fans were really juiced up that day. And even though Tony Romo had been injured earlier in the season, and Kyle Orton was having to fill in, I think there were still a lot of hopes going into that game. And that's why it was so crushing to not only miss the playoffs, and do it short-handed, but for the Eagles to advance. That's what really hurt.

ROB ELLIS: Oh Kristi, sorry, not sorry! We've been there. So many times!

DERRICK GUNN: The final score, 24-22. The Eagles clinch the NFC East and the celebrations erupt!

CONNOR BARWIN: You get in a locker room and it's just the best. I mean, it's absolutely the best. Doesn't matter that you're on the road, it's almost even a little sweeter when you do it on the road, especially in Cowboys Stadium. People are throwing out the T-shirts. I remember lots of hugs with everyone. That's a special hour after that game, just with your teammates. Nobody's in there. The coaches are ecstatic. You're hugging coaches, so it's kind of messy, a bunch of sweaty men hugging each other and taking pictures and putting on, acting like this $10 T-shirt is the greatest thing they've ever received. But it's all that work. And, doing it as a team, and being happy that you've given yourself the opportunity to get into the playoffs, you know, compete to try to win a Super Bowl.

ROB ELLIS: One week later, the Eagles took on the New Orleans Saints at home. It happened again. The final score difference? Two points. It was another two-point spread, but this time it broke for the Saints. The Eagles lost 26-24. It was heartbreaking. And for the next several years, the Birds failed to get back to the playoffs. Until 2017.

DERRICK GUNN: And that's the year we are heading to RIGHT NOW!


ROB ELLIS: I might be overstating it here, but the 2017 Philadelphia Eagles season is probably the most awesome, beyond amazing, in the history of the franchise and possibly the world or even the universe!

DERRICK GUNN: Rob, if anything, that is an understatement! And you call yourself a fan!

ROB ELLIS: I do! And I am! Anyway, I am not the only one who feels nostalgic remembering the 2017 season. Brent Celek does too.

BRENT CELEK: I think as you get older, you realize that any year can be your last, and for me, I wanted to win a Super Bowl. And so that's all that really mattered to me looking back on 2017. We had some things happen to us, like the kick that Jake (Elliott) had against the Giants to help us win. And some other things during that season, like, we're playing the Rams, and Carson (Wentz) goes down and (Nick) Foles comes in, and we win the game. Those are like big moments in our season that we build upon to ultimately win a Super Bowl. But it was like, we had the right people. It was the right time and everything about it was perfect.

DERRICK GUNN: Before that perfect season-ending moment, the Eagles competed in some tough games. And as Brent Celek just said, overcame some obstacles that for lesser teams would have been season-ending challenges.

ROB ELLIS: One of those moments happened in Week 11. The Eagles were in Dallas. It was their first meet-up of the season. The Eagles were having such a good run, it was really a nod to what they were building to. Their record is 9-1. Doug Pederson had started as the head coach in 2016. But he was familiar with the Eagles and this rivalry because Pederson suited up for the Birds in 1999.

DERRICK GUNN: The Cowboys were still under the watchful coaching eyes of Jason Garrett. A man who Kristi Scales says loves Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen. 2017 should have been a good year for Garrett and the Cowboys.

KRISTI SCALES: I just remembered that the Cowboys had such a good year the previous year, during Dak (Prescott) and Zeke's (Ezekiel Elliott) rookie year and so there were such high hopes entering 2017.

DERRICK GUNN: Those players Kristi Scales mentioned are quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliott. People who follow the NFL know that sometimes the season doesn't always match the hopes. The Cowboys were sitting at 5-5. It's Sunday night and the Birds are in enemy territory. Let's see what happens next. Straight out of the gate, the Cowboys nail a 48-yard field goal.

BRENT CELEK: That's not a good feeling. And you realize you got to come from behind, but you can't really focus on that. You just have to focus on the play that you're doing. You know, if you start focusing on other things, then I think you start playing terrible. And so the mentality, for a lot of football players, is just erase that last play, erase what just happened, and focus on the next thing.

ROB ELLIS: That's tight end Brent Celek. In 2017, he was in his 11th season with Philadelphia. He'd seen his fair share of roller coaster games. You know the ups and downs, leads exchanged. And this game started just like that but with a twist. Here's Dave Spadaro.

DAVE SPADARO: Jake (Elliott) tries to make a tackle. I mean kickers only do it if they're desperate. So Jake was desperate, got his head stuck in there, and got dinged and then missed a field goal and then missed the rest of the game. But the lesson here is the kickers don't get mixed up with the big boys. And I think Jake allowed himself to get mixed up a little bit with the big boys. It cost him the rest of the game.

DERRICK GUNN: Jake Elliott, the kicker was out. Would this mean game over for the Eagles?

ROB ELLIS: Then running back Kenjon Barner scores! The Eagles are in the lead! The giant scoreboard in AT&T Stadium reads 7-3.

DERRICK GUNN: Then two more field goals from Dallas' Mike Nugent. The Cowboys extended their lead to 9-7. It's halftime and the teams run off to their respective locker rooms.

ROB ELLIS: To even have a shot at the Super Bowl, the Birds needed to keep winning. Coach Pederson's pep talk had to fire up the team.

DAVE SPADARO: I think he got after everybody a little bit in that halftime speech there. Because the Eagles' offensive line came out and you can literally see snorting and snuffing coming out of their noses. They were pissed.

ROB ELLIS: Whatever Coach Doug Pederson said worked. When the team ran back onto the field, it was like they had Lombardi Trophies in their eyes!

DERRICK GUNN: There was no stopping the Birds.

KRISTI SCALES: The Cowboys' offense was completely inept. That's from a Cowboys standpoint. From an Eagle standpoint, the Eagles' defense absolutely dominated. So, it's which side of the fence you're on. But the truth is that they're both right.

ROB ELLIS: Philadelphia not only came from behind, but they put up 30 points in the second half!

DERRICK GUNN: The Cowboys didn't score in the second half. If you have been keeping track while listening to this, they did not make it to the end zone once! A touchdownless game, is that even a word?

ROB ELLIS: We get the point and so did Dallas.

KRISTI SCALES: It just left a bad taste in the mouth of not just Cowboys fans, but the organization. I think the mindset was that wasn't going to happen next year.

DERRICK GUNN: It's never a good idea to leave the enemy fired up, looking for vengeance – just like another Liam Neeson movie. But it's that one-upmanship that keeps this rivalry thriving and the fans completely enthralled, home or away!

DAVE SPADARO: Eagles fans always show up in Texas. And when the Eagles play the Cowboys, there is always a very large representation of Eagles fans. And that season, with the Cowboys struggling, Dallas fans were more than happy to sell their tickets to Eagles fans, so it was a large, large contingent of Philadelphia Eagles fans there who enjoyed every bit of it.

DERRICK GUNN: After the game, all the Eagles fans who traveled to Dallas were ecstatic!

DAVE SPADARO: I remember as the team came off the field at the end of the game, there were huge numbers of fans at the tunnel where the Eagles exit the field to go into the locker room. So while it was in Dallas, it very much had a feel of a home crowd and that's kind of the way it was that season. I mean, it was a team that left that field nine and one knowing that this was going to be a special ride of a season.

ROB ELLIS: But the Eagles had more games to play and there was no coasting! The Birds finished the regular season, 13-3. The team would continue on to have a magnificent postseason. They bested the Atlanta Falcons and Minnesota Vikings to advance to the Super Bowl for the first time since 2004.

DERRICK GUNN: In a fated rematch, they faced off against the New England Patriots. And we all know how that ended ... Let's take a moment to savor that victory.

ROB ELLIS: That clip is always listening gold!


ROB ELLIS: OK, we're back. Derrick, we seem to only be focused on the odd years in this episode – 2013, 2017, and now we find ourselves in 2019!

DERRICK GUNN: It's as if the rivalry, at least from the Eagles' side, thrived in the odd years ... hmmmm ... 1979, 1987, 1989, 1991 ... by the way, take a listen to those earlier episodes. You might notice a pattern. Anyway. 2019, it seems like yesterday. People were roaming free without a care in the world.

ROB ELLIS: Prince Harry and Meghan Markle welcomed Archie. The U.S. women's soccer team won the 2019 FIFA World Cup. Avengers: Endgame, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, and Toy Story 4 all broke records!

DERRICK GUNN: The 'Boys had Jason Garett as head coach, and Doug Pederson was directing the Birds.

ROB ELLIS: The first game against Dallas was Week 7. The Eagles were sitting at three wins and four losses. They had come off a defeat to the Vikings and now they were headed to Jerry World to take on the Cowboys.

DAVE SPADARO: OK, so in October, the Cowboys squash, I mean literally squash, the Eagles. And the enduring memory is Ezekiel Elliott bowling over Malcolm Jenkins. He had 111 yards and a rushing touchdown. It was a game where the Eagles had a touchdown taken away from them. Carson Wentz had a very, very poor game. And the Eagles were pissed because they felt that was a representative game. They didn't feel the Cowboys were in a different class.

DERRICK GUNN: It did not go well for the Birds. They eeked out 10 points. To this day, defensive end Brandon Graham still has strong feelings about the team's poor performance.

BRANDON GRAHAM: It was embarrassing. That first game, we got blown up. It was bad and I knew I had my worst game as an Eagle against them. That was one of those games where I was hurting and trying to push through. And it was even worse because they juked me on one play, boy. It was like one-on-one, am I gonna make the tackle? I made him come back inside, but it didn't look good on TV.

ROB ELLIS: The final was 37-10, Cowboys. Well, that thrashing may have just stirred the need for payback.

DAVE SPADARO: By the time the Cowboys came to Lincoln financial field, I think the defense remembered that week. There were a lot of player conversations and meetings, and the idea was that we are not going to let the Cowboys come in here and stomp on us.

DOUG PEDERSON: You know they got us the last time and hey, you know that they kicked our tail then. They had a great game plan and you know we listened. We just got to come prepared each day this week and study the tape. Coaches have got to have a great game plan obviously and they've got to empower players, who have to understand the game plan.

BRANDON GRAHAM: For me, man, I just want to go out there and put up a better performance because I wasn't happy with the first one. I think everybody could say the same. Because the way we went out there and played, you could tell that everybody wants to make it right.

ROB ELLIS: Retribution was something the Eagles franchise had experimented with, but only a little. In the late '80s, Buddy Ryan was known for his scorekeeping and sending hard-hitting messages. But this more modern Eagles team had a different idea of payback. Think death by a thousand papercuts. You don't really know its impact until it's too late.

DERRICK GUNN: It's December 22, 2019 and we have another late-in-the-season showdown for the rivals. Eagles fans are here for it. Dave Spadaro again.

DAVE SPADARO: It's no secret that Eagles fans consider the Dallas Cowboys public enemy number 1,2,3,4,5. I mean, so many times I had coaches say, I came to Philadelphia and the first thing I heard is, "Hey, good luck, coach. Make sure you beat the Cowboys twice."

DERRICK GUNN: We have heard that before!

DAVE SPADARO: And so by the time that game started late in the day, people are partying and people are ready to beat the Cowboys and nothing matters more than beating the Cowboys. And this is why the NFL sets up the Eagles and the Cowboys late in the season almost every year. It's a great rivalry.

ROB ELLIS: I cannot imagine Dave Spadaro and Kristi Scales would agree on much, but here we are.

KRISTI SCALES: That's the genius of the NFL right is to put the two rivals at the end of the year, because with Washington and the New York Giants really not doing much in the decade, it just made absolute sense that it was either going to be the Eagles or the Cowboys. And that's pretty much the way it was for the whole decade. And the NFL knew exactly what they were doing in setting up those regular-season finales.

ROB ELLIS: Kickoff was at 4:25 PM at the Linc. It was 47 degrees, rather warm for this late in the season. Close to 70,000 fans filled the stadium. The Cowboys won the toss. First 15 minutes, Jake Elliott kicks a 36-yard field goal. (It's) 3-0 Eagles.

DERRICK GUNN: The defense was paying extra attention to Ezekiel Elliott.

DAVE SPADARO: Every time Ezekiel Elliott, who had over 100 yards in the October matchup, carried the football, you could just see the Eagles' defense swarming to him, carrying the message from 70,000 fans at the Linc saying don't let Elliott get up after a big gain and give me that "feed me sign" that he does that drives people crazy.

ROB ELLIS: Could the Eagles' defense keep Elliott from feasting?

BRANDON GRAHAM: I just remember it was all about; we know what they were going to run. We know what they do. It's just all about who is gonna want it at the end of the day.

ROB ELLIS: Still in the first quarter, Carson Wentz completes a 6-yard pass to Dallas Goedert. It's a touchdown! The Eagles lead 10-0.

DERRICK GUNN: The second quarter is underway. The Cowboys' kicker, Kai Forbath, hits a 49-yard field goal. Then right before halftime, Forbath nails another field goal. The score sits at 10-6 Eagles going into halftime.

ROB ELLIS: It's the third quarter and the Birds and the 'Boys are ready for the second half. It's anybody's game for now ...

DAVE SPADARO: Going into this game, I felt that the Eagles would have to win an ugly game. The lack of weapons offensively hindered explosive plays, big gains, and challenging matchups. So it was a Carson-don't-turn-the-football-over offense. Let's control the clock. Let's move the sticks. Let's go up and down the field. And it just wasn't pretty. It was just kind of old-fashioned, grind-it-up football.

ROB ELLIS: Dave Spadaro is right. This game wasn't the nail-biter of 2013. It wasn't the lopsided victory of 2017. But it was everything the Eagles needed it to be. In the third quarter, Miles Sanders found the end zone, bringing the score to 17-6.

DERRICK GUNN: Dallas made one more field goal in the fourth quarter and then it was over.

ROB ELLIS: The final score was 17-9, Eagles.

DERRICK GUNN: Dallas was held to – oh wait, I can use my new favorite word here – TOUCHDOWNLESS! But the Eagles played the way they needed to secure the win!

BRANDON GRAHAM: It was just a mentality that game, man. Everybody wants to win the NFC East. And this was an opportunity for us to keep it going and beat the Cowboys, who everybody loves, boasting about who's gonna win that year. We came in with just our attitude, just making sure that we don't go back, go out there, and embarrass ourselves like we did when we went down there.

DAVE SPADARO: And the number that sticks out, Dallas was 3-of-14 on third downs. That's huge. Eagles were able to keep the Cowboys' offense off the field. And while the Eagles didn't score a lot of points, they controlled the clock. They had the football for 36 minutes and 12 seconds, grinding it out. Control football, small ball, not a lot of exciting plays. It was not a game of excitement. It was a game of let's figure out a way to win our way. And in the case of the Philadelphia Eagles in December of 2019, is there anything more Philadelphia than blue collar? It was a blue-collar win in a blue-collar town against the despised Dallas Cowboys. So maybe at the end of the day an ugly win on paper and it was the beauty in the eye of the beholder because it kept the Eagles alive, pushing them into the following week where they clinched the NFC East.

KRISTI SCALES: And it was just like, not again. Not to these guys and of all the teams. Sure there's so much respect for the Eagles' defense. But it's like, why was it always the Eagles to knock the Cowboys out in that final game? And for the Eagles to advance, that's what really hurt.

ROB ELLIS: The Eagles went on to defeat the New York Giants on the road the following week. The team clinched the NFC East title! But those feelings of euphoria were short-lived. The Birds lost to another bird team, the Seahawks, in the Wild Card game. But their December win at the Linc put Dallas in second place and out of the playoffs – exactly where the fans want them to be!

DERRICK GUNN: So Rob, it seems like we've literally run out of time.

ROB ELLIS: I know! We have played one season in this new decade. And as far as we see it in rivalry games, the Birds and the 'Boys are tied 1-1! The Eagles organization has nothing but respect for the Cowboys. They continue to push our players and coaches to play better and smarter. And I have no doubt that the 'Boys will continue to get under our fans' skin like no other team in the NFL. It really is the fans who drive this rivalry and keep the Birds flying! So, with that in mind, in our next episode, we turn our attention to some of our most well-known Eagles fans.

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